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Best TV Shows of the Decade

23.) ER: While its best days were arguably in the '90s, the 15-season-long medical drama vigorously plugged along like any overworked but dedicated doctor or nurse. It gave us heart-pumping storylines and cases that always packed an emotional wallop. And Dr. Greene's death in 2002 provided one of TV's finest hours.

22.) CSI: Network procedurals are nothing new, but CSI's intense focus on science was. High-tech gadgets, lots of jargon, and the occasional maggot infestation helped the lab nerds look cooler than the beat cops. The original spawned two successful spin-offs to become the Law & Order of the 21st century.

21.) Curb Your Enthusiasm: After co-creating one of the best shows of the '90s, Larry David did a pretty, pretty, pretty great job of topping it. Seinfeld's behind-the-scenes genius mined the most neurotic version of himself to create comic situations rooted in our darkest anxieties. His co-collaborators, from Jeff Garlin to Cheryl Hines, were consistently brilliant, but the show brought out the best in everyone who appeared on it. Its string of unforgettable lines are as impossible to forget as they are to explain.

20.) South Park: Hard-hitting comedies love to claim they rip on everyone equally, but they all leave someone out. Except South Park. It's taken on Michael Jackson, the Jonas Brothers, World of Warcraft, every religion, 9/11 Truthers, Prius drivers, Chipotle and Kanye West (before the Taylor Swift thing). Who knew paper cutout characters could hurt so many feelings?

19.) Six Feet Under: Alan Ball's drama about a family running a funeral home never grew to the heights of HBO's The Sopranos and Sex and the City. But the Fisher family dealt with sexuality, religion, family, and above all mortality with more bluntness and empathy than any show before or since.

18.) The Shield: The dirty deeds of Vic Mackey and the Strike Team followed The Sopranos' anti-hero lead, but The Shield was able to pull off its goals within the bounds of basic cable. Shawn Ryan's gritty cop show will stand for being raw, violent and relentlessly entertaining, but it also deserves credit for blazing a trail for the basic cable boom and creating a business model that made it possible to create compelling drama on a non-network budget.

17.) Battlestar Galactica: We could call this one of the most successful reboots ever, but it was an entire reimaging. Air-locking the original series' beep-boop tackiness, Ron Moore created a sci-fi narrative notable for its humanity — and questions about what it even means to be human. The battles were epic, the "Who's a Cylon?" mystery intrigued us, and the stars sure were sexy. But at its center, the show was a well-drawn story about people fighting to survive.

16.) Survivor: Mark Burnett's idea of putting strangers on an island to compete for $1 million showed you don't need scripts for good TV — just a brilliant concept. The show's success in 2000 launched the reality TV genre, and countless shows that are an ocean away in terms of quality. That's not Survivor's fault: The show's slick production, ingenuity and cagey, sometimes inspiring castaways have made it the most consistently excellent reality show of the decade.

15.) The West Wing: Aaron Sorkin's look at the inner workings of the White House provided both political commentary and compelling drama. The show created a lovable president who guided a country that often seemed more stable than the real one was during the show's seven-year run. We're pretty sure the show had better banter, though.

14.) Dexter: Michael C. Hall has a composed, tranquil look that serves him well as a crime lab nerd who also happens to be a ruthless serial killer. Whether he's taking out his own brother, dodging cops, or learning lessons from other killers, Dexter is impossible to nail down.

13.) 30 Rock: Tina Fey's behind-the-scenes, self-referential screwball comedy rises above other sitcoms with sharp, easy-to-miss political and pop culture barbs. But what keeps us tuning in are the inscrutable characters, especially pitch-perfect Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan, who artfully toys with his real-life personae. Jack McBrayer steals episode after episode as the innocent-but-full-of-secrets Kenneth, and even supporting roles are filled with top-notch guest stars. (Sometimes too many guest stars.)

12.) The Office (British & American): Eschewing the laugh track and ushering in the age of the mockumentary, Ricky Gervais' British masterpiece was a discourse on discomfort. Americans don't have the best history with British imports (Coupling, anyone?), but Greg Daniels' U.S. version defied the odds with its own dysfunctional workforce brilliance.

11.) Sex and the City: The blunt writing and relatable characters on Sex and the City left women (and men) faithfully tuning into the HBO series. The show was about more than Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte navigating through their New York City lives while frankly discussing their dreams and fantasies. Viewers won’t deny part of the lure was fashion. Manolo Blahnik became a household name; spending several thousands of dollars on a handbag became socially acceptable in some circles; and "fashion risks" became a staple in daily life.

10.) Mad Men: This series took one of the most transforming decades in American history and showed it to us through the eyes of the sexy, cool men and women of Madison Avenue. Don Draper's mastery of the boardroom and bedroom has given him power and success, but his self-doubt and dishonesty have destroyed his home life. Watching him try and fail to have it all is the most scotch- and cigarette-filled pleasure on TV.

9.) Arrested Development: Taking comedy to new levels of absurdity, Arrested delivered the most rewards to fans who paid the closest attention. It merged self-referential meta-jokes, puns, and pop-culture jabs while seamlessly tying together each ridiculous turn in the lives of the Bluth family. We couldn't "Save the Bluths," but there's always that movie.

8.) Freaks and Geeks: Though it barely aired in this decade, its influence has been too great to ignore. Launching the careers of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco and more, Freaks told the story of the classic high school outcasts. Set in 1980, the series proved to be far more relatable than other high-school shows by encapsulating adolescence at its most awkward. And hilarious.

7.) American Idol: It may feel like nothing more than a glorified karaoke contest, but American Idol has found the right balance of entertainment and storytelling to become network TV's biggest guaranteed ratings draw outside the Super Bowl. Time will tell how the show will change with Ellen DeGeneres filling Paula Abdul's chair, but we hope the talent level will rise and rise. Like Adam Lambert's pitch.

6.) Family Guy: While the The Simpsons was the most daring animated sitcom of the '90s, Seth MacFarlane made his claim to this decade with Family Guy's pop-culture obsessed, envelope-pushing gags. He almost lost his chance: Fox axed the series in 2003, only to resurrect it the following year. Apparently they realized the ratings power of a diabolical baby and talking dog.

5.) The Daily Show: Sometimes all you can do is laugh. Jon Stewart has made entertainment of even the most depressing world events, and maybe even inspired us to be better informed. And just think, if the show didn't exist, we might never have encountered such comedy talents as Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Stephen Colbert.

4.) The Wire: The saddest thing about The Wire's bleak portrait of urban America? That it felt so accurate. Whether exploring broken bureaucracy, dirty politics, or news media shortfalls, David Simon's series argued that nothing can improve without a real commitment to systemic change. The exposition-free writing and stunning acting made this a triumph of TV storytelling.

3.) 24: 24 provided an outlet for viewers to confront their post-9/11 fears — and see their dreams of justice carried out onscreen. With America at war, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) became the hero many were looking for: a man willing to do anything necessary to protect his country and the people he loves. But the show's most watchable character may be the clock, which adds suspense and realism to nightmarish-yet-familiar plots.

2.) Lost: Nobody could have predicted what this cult favorite had in store when audiences first met the survivors of Oceanic 815 in 2004. With its fragmented narrative and realistic treatment of unrealistic, supernatural and mind-bending subjects, this character drama has continually shocked and devastated us. Every new episode feels like an event. Here's hoping the final chapter in the saga will be as satisfying and mind-blowing as the ones that preceded it.

1.) The Sopranos: David Chase taught us to empathize with the bad guy when he created Tony Soprano, who struggled to deal with his overbearing mother while balancing his responsibilities to his family — and his other family. The series began the decade's anti-hero boom while exploring the role of violence in America. And somehow it was very, very funny. Its ending may be the most dissected in television history.

Source: TV Guide
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